Progress made in efforts to prevent farmers’ strike

Sides agree to form committee on ways to enable the entrance of more foreign workers to help farmers.

fruits et l?gumes (photo credit: courtesy)
fruits et l?gumes
(photo credit: courtesy)
Farmers’ representatives met with officials from the ministries of interior, finance and agriculture on Wednesday in an effort to avert the general farmers’ strike, scheduled to begin on November 22.
At the end of the meeting, which was held in the Population Immigration and Borders Authority (PIBA) offices in Jerusalem, the strike was still on, but the sides agreed to form a joint committee to find a way to enable the entrance of additional foreign workers to aid the farmers.
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The farmers are threatening to stop supplying fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as eggs and milk, for three days unless PIBA allows in roughly 4,500 foreign workers, filling up the annual quota of 26,000.
According to the farmers, in failing to allow in the workers, the government was backing down from commitments they agreed to last year.
In May 2009, the farmers, through the Israeli Farmers Federation, signed a deal with the government that would see a gradual decrease in the amount of foreign workers permits given to farmers, in exchange for grants to introduce labor-saving technology.
The farmers claim that despite the promise of a gradual reduction, the government effectively stopped allowing in new workers completely, leaving the agriculture sector dangerously short-handed.
Israeli Farmers Federation secretary-general Avshalom Vilan said that the farmers demanded that the quota for 2011 remain at 26,000 workers, and not be further reduced, since 2010 is already at its end and the quota was never reached.
He added that if a solution were not found in the next two weeks, the strike would go ahead as planned.
PIBA spokeswoman Sabine Hadad characterized the meeting as productive and said the farmers had been promised that all the government’s obligations would be met, including the import of additional workers to complete the quota.
“We believe that the meeting, which will be followed by additional ones in the upcoming days, will produce results that will make the farmers’ strike unnecessary,” said Hadad.
Originally planned to be a surprise strike, the farmers decided to give ample warning in order to allow the authorities time to respond to their demands and so as not to excessively harm the public.
Fruit-Growers Association director-general Ilan Eshel sent out letters to all association members on Wednesday, instructing them on how to prepare for the strike.